African-American basketball referee Felicia Grinter won’t win an Olympic gold medal, but her officiating skills have helped her claim a place in history.
Grinter, who has been officiating basketball games for more than 20 years, was chosen as a referee for this summer’s Olympic basketball games in London, where she served as the only referee from the U.S., male or female.
She told sports journalist Roscoe Nash that officiating the Olympic Games is by far the greatest accomplishment of her career.
“It is definitely the highest point of my career,” said Grinter, who has refereed games for the NBA, the WNBA and the NCAA. “It’s been a blessing. All I could do was holler when I found out and give blessings to the Lord above for the path he has led me on.”
Grinter first began officiating basketball on the middle-school level back in 1991, but told Nash that she was still reluctant to the job back then.
“I said it wasn’t for me,” Grinter said. “I didn’t like people hollering at me. I’m a laid back, quiet person.”
But Grinter, who once played point guard for Volunteer State University’s women’s basketball team, said she needed the money so she stuck with it. She attended the Ohio Valley Conference referees camp in 1993, and from that point her career instantly took off.
She would eventually serve as a referee for several major college basketball conferences, including the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC); the Atlantic Sun Conference; the Big East; the Big Ten; the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA); and the Conference USA.
She also remembers refereeing for Black college conferences such as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).
“I enjoy the MEAC because it gives me the opportunity to referee HBCUs,” she told Nash. “You can see the kids who come out of those universities, how well they play and how athletic they are. That helped me to be able to officiate more athletic players. They like to a fast-paced game.”
Grinter didn’t mention whether or not she would rather referee for college or the pros, but she did acknowledge the difference between the styles.
“The difference in collegiate officiating and professional officiating is pro players are taller, bigger, stronger and the game is quicker,” she said. “Those players are being paid to do a job. They’re going to challenge us with calls. In the international game the pace is probably the biggest difference. It’s a very fast-paced game. They play to win on offense. Here in the United States its defense. When they shoot the ball and it comes off, they’re gone.”
Grinter told Nash that no matter how far she makes it in her career, she’ll always remain humble because she knows how challenging her job is. She’s responsible for making calls that affect big time games, but at the end of the day, she’s still only human.
“Everybody else gets to see the replay. I know I give it 100 percent,” Grinter said. “Every call, every whistle, I’m hoping I’m making the right call. When I miss I just say to myself I’m human. If a coach asks, I say I missed it. I’ll do better the next time. I’m upfront. I have ownership. That comes with experience and confidence. That’s where I am in my career.”